For the second time in exactly two months, the Warriors rolled into Salt Lake City expecting a difficult game and getting one. The comeback this time, however, was not completed.
With their last chance to tie the game ending in a turnover with 2.8 seconds remaining, the defending champs trudged out of Vivint Smart Home Arena Wednesday night with a 108-103 loss the Utah Jazz.
The Warriors’ record fell to 21-11, while the Jazz went to 15-17. The season series is even (1-1), as the Warriors came back for a 124-123 victory there on Oct. 19.
Here are some positives and negatives culled from a game that was close throughout the late stages but was decided mostly at the 3-point arc:
Even open shots weren’t falling
Stephen Curry did an efficient job of scoring, finishing with a game-high 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting, including 5-of-9 from deep. Kevin Durant was wretched in the first half (2-of-11 shooting, three turnovers) and Klay Thompson spent the night searching for his shot and settling for 3-of-12.
Those numbers partly reflect a game in which the Warriors never found any rhythm. It never got better than a six-point lead midway through the second quarter. Warriors not named Curry or Durant shot 16-of-51 (31.4 percent).
What happened? The Jazz used muscle and aggression – particularly on Thompson – to make the Warriors so uncomfortable they missed badly even on open looks. This is a solvable problem that didn’t get solved on this night.
Thompson’s excellent defense
Thompson typically doesn’t allow his poor shooting to affect his defensive effort, and he didn’t in this game. He was assigned to Donovan Mitchell and limited Utah’s leading scorer to 17 points on 5-of-26 shooting. Thompson, put simply, locked up the opponent’s most dangerous player.
Again. In two games against the Warriors, Mitchell is 12-of-49 (24.5 percent). Most of that is a credit to Thompson.
Anytime the Warriors face the Jazz they would happily accept 24.5-percent shooting from Mitchell and then take their chances with the rest of the roster.
The bench got bombed
Utah’s bench averaged an astonishing 61.7 points over its last three home games, scoring at least 50 points in all three. While the Warriors limited the reserves to 39 points, their reserves totaled only 17 and were punished by forward Jae Crowder and guard Kyle Korver, who combined for 30 points, while shooting 9-of-14 from deep.
The Warriors have had some strong games from their bench. This wasn’t one. Maybe it was the altitude. Or maybe they just ran into the hottest bench in the NBA.
The Draymond Files
The Jazz had a plan and stuck to it. They would focus Curry and Durant and Thompson while daring Draymond Green and Kevon Looney to beat them. Such strategy was risky in the past, when Green in particular would drain timely 3-pointers to force defenses to resort to Plan B.
But Green is shooting 21 percent from deep. He had plenty of open looks on the perimeter, but rarely fired away. He settled for three layups and a dunk, missing his other six shots.
Green’s scoring is optional, behind defense and playmaking. But when defenses realize he isn’t a threat, the floor shrinks. He must be better, and vows that he will.
Durant glides past The Glove
Durant entered the game eight points away from passing Hall of Famer Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list. Durant moved in 32nd place in the second quarter, when he scored his seventh and eighth points from the line. Durant, who surpassed Larry Bird’s career total on Monday, now has 21,836 points.
Next up for Durant is Clyde Drexler (22,195). At the current rate, Durant will pass Clyde the Glide sometime in mid-January.